An Evaluation of
May 1971 Satellite-
Derived Sea Surface
Temperatures for the
P. KRISHNA RAO
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND / NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL,
ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION / SATELLITE SERVICE
NOAA TECHNICAL REPORTS
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NESC 38 Angular Distribution of Solar Radiation Reflected From Clouds as Determined From TIROS IV Radi-
ometer Measurements. I. Ruff, R. Koffler, S. Fritz, J. S. Winston, and P. K. Rao, March 1967.
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(Continued on inside back cover)
NOAA Technical Report NESS 69
An Evaluation of May 1971
Satellite-Derived Sea Surface
Temperature's for the
P. KRISHNA RAO
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES GROUP
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C, 20402.
Price 55 cents
-*° ftT ^ 0s ^-
UNITED STATES / NATIONAL OCEANIC AND /NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE / ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION/ SATELLITE SERVICE
Frederick B. Dent, Secretary / Robert M. White, Administrator / David S. Johnson, Director
1. Introduction 1
2. Data source 2
3. Results 2
4. Comments on the validation of satellite-
derived sea surface temperatures 5
5. Summary and concluding remarks 6
1. Southern Hemisphere sea surface temperature anal-
ysis derived from NOAA 1 scanning radiometer
data for May 15, 1971 8
2. Southern Hemisphere mean monthly sea surface tem-
perature analysis for May 1971, derived from
NOAA 1 scanning radiometer data 9
3. Time-longitude section showing the brightness and
temperature departures at 5°S derived from NOAA 1
satellite data for May 1971 10
4. Same as in figure 3 for 10°S 10
5. Same as in figure 3 for 15°S 11
6. Same as in figure 3 for 20° S 11
7. Comparison of mean monthly sea surface temperatures
over the Southern Pacific Ocean for May 1971
derived from NOAA 1 scanning radiometer data ... 12
8. Comparison of mean monthly latitudinal sea surface
temperature profiles at 130°W and 160°W over the
Southern Hemisphere for May 1971 13
AN EVALUATION OF MAY 1971 SATELLITE-DERIVED
SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES FOR THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE
P. Krishna Rao
Environmental Sciences Group
National Environmental Satellite Service
NOAA, Hillcrest Heights, Md.
ABSTRACT. An objective analysis program was used to
derive sea surface temperature distribution over the
Southern Hemisphere for May 1971. These observa-
tions were obtained from the NOAA 1 satellite. The
derived temperatures were subjected to an analysis
program and daily sea surface temperature charts
Examples of a daily and a monthly mean sea surface
temperature chart are shown. Satellite-derived
brightness values and sea surface temperature changes
were used to construct time-longitude sections over
the eastern part of the South Pacific for May 1971
to study the variations in these two parameters. The
sea surface temperatures derived from NOAA 1 data
showed good agreement with conventional ship data of
the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Sea surface temperatures in selected regions of the oceans in both the
Northern and Southern Hemispheres (Smith et al . 1970, Rao et al . 1972,
Shenk and Salomonson 1972) have been derived from satellite infrared radia-
tion (IR) measurements. In spite of system noise in both the high-resolution
IR (HRIR) data from NIMBUS satellites and the medium- resolution IR (MRIR)
measurements from the Improved TIROS Operational Satellite (ITOS) and NOAA 1
satellite, sea surface temperatures could be derived with an absolute accu-
racy of 2°C or better. For most of the studies the information used was
obtained in one infrared window channel, while for some other studies multi-
channel information was used (Smith and Rao 1972, Shenk and Salomonson 1972)
to minimize the influence of clouds on the surface temperature determination.
All the above studies cited showed the feasibility of obtaining sea surface
temperatures under relatively cloud-free conditions and the procedures used
for these studies generally were objective.
Operational environmental satellites now in orbit carry HRIR instruments
and Very High Resolution Radiometers (VHRR) primarily designed for mapping
the cloud cover by day and by night. The information obtained from these
radiometers has shown that it is feasible to detect and monitor oceanic
features such as thermal fronts, current boundaries, meanders and eddies, at
least under relatively cloud-free conditions. When satellite radiation data
over long periods of time become available, it will be possible to study the
temporal and spatial variations of sea surface temperatures over many regions.
This study shows an example of mean monthly sea surface temperature distribu-
tion in the Southern Hemisphere derived from satellite radiation data for
May 1971. Temperature changes over the eastern part of the South Pacific
Ocean for this period are also discussed and comparisons are made with con-
2. DATA SOURCE
Data used in this study were obtained from the NOAA 1 satellite launched
in December 1970. NOAA satellites are operational environmental satellites
and were formerly known as the Improved TIROS Operational Satellites (ITOS);
a full description of the system is given in the ITOS project report (God-
dard Space Flight Center 1970). In brief, the satellite is a three-axis
stabilized, Earth-oriented spacecraft designed to provide complete daily day
and night coverage of the globe. It is a polar-orbiting satellite with an
altitude of approximately 1500 km and carries two dual channel radiometers.
One of the channels measures the radiation emitted from Earth and its atmo-
sphere in the 10.5-12.5 ym region. The instantaneous field-of-view of the
instrument results in a viewed spot at the earth's surface 8 km in diameter
at the nadir. The global measurements are stored in a tape recorder on the
satellite and are transmitted to the ground for computer processing.
The infrared (IR) data obtained from the satellite are corrected for ab-
sorption by water vapor in this spectral interval. The corrections vary with
the viewing angle of observation, the atmospheric water vapor content, and
the cloud conditions. Data presented in this paper have been corrected for
atmospheric attenuation using a method developed by Smith et al . (1970).
Sea surface temperature estimates were derived from the NOAA 1 IR measure-
ments by using the histogram method developed by Smith et al . (1970). In
this method a large number of observations over an area larger than that
covered by most clouds is examined; by using the empirical rule mentioned in
the above reference, sea surface temperature can be derived over most areas
that are relatively cloud free. The method is objective and can be imple-
mented by means of a digital computer. The derived sea surface temperatures
were analyzed by the objective method developed by Holl et al . (1971) to pro-
duce the complete sea surface temperature analyses over the Southern Hemi-
sphere used in the present study.
In studies relating to global or hemispheric distributions of sea surface
temperature, a grid developed by the National Meteorological Center (NMC) is
used. It consists of 64 x 64 squares over a polar stereographic projection
of each hemisphere; the size of each grid square is approximately 2.5° x 2.5°
(latitude-longitude) at mid-latitudes. In each grid square, approximately
1,024 satellite IR observations per observation time are used to define a
temperature based on the objective technique. Temperatures cannot be
obtained over some areas because of persistent cloud cover; to a certain
extent, the effects of extensive cloud cover can be overcome by the objective
analysis technique referred to earlier.
The sea surface temperature distribution obtained over the Southern Hemi-
sphere for May 15, 1971 is shown in figure 1; the isotherms are drawn at 2°C
intervals. The strong thermal gradient at mid- latitudes is in good agree-
ment with climatology. The warm and cold current regions along the coasts
of South America and South Africa, and the warm regions along the Australian
Coast are in reasonable agreement with historical observations over these
areas. Some centers of low temperatures in the tropical latitudes disagree
with the climatological values; this discrepancy can be attributed to cloud
contamination of the satellite IR observations. Piatt (1972) compared the
satellite-derived temperatures over a 3-day period with the sea surface
temperatures prepared by the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia and found the
differences between satellite values and ship temperatures to be between 1°
and 2°C. Similar differences have been noted earlier by Smith et al . (1970)
and Rao et al . (1972).
A mean monthly Southern Hemisphere sea surface temperature chart for May
1971 was produced using the daily charts. The daily values at each grid
point were averaged to obtain the mean monthly value. Figure 2 shows the
mean monthly sea surface temperature obtained from NOAA 1 scanning radiometer
infrared (SRIR) data; this is the first such map known to have been obtained
by using satellite IR data exclusively. Even in this average monthly chart,
the warm and cold regions along the coasts of South America, Africa, and
Australia are noticeable. It is possible that the influence of clouds on the
satellite observations might not have been removed completely, so some of the
low -temperature areas in the tropics may be attributed to cloudiness. Mean
monthly sea surface temperatures from this map will be compared with inde-
pendent data and discussed later.
Time- longitude sections prepared from the daily NOAA 1 sea surface tempera-
ture charts for 5°, 10°, 15°, and 20°S are shown in figures 3-6. The daily
charts show interesting temperature departures over the eastern South Pacific;
the time- longitude sections portray some of these departures. Also shown in
figures 3-6 are digitized brightness values for the corresponding period
obtained from NOAA 1 satellite vidicon information. These relative bright-
ness values are given on a scale of 1 to 10. The contours are drawn at inter-
vals of 1, and brightness values greater than 2 are shaded to indicate gener-
ally cloudy conditions. All the time sections represent a narrow longitude
region between 90° and 120°W. Temperature departures rather than actual tem-
peratures are given for each day at these locations. These departures are
the daily departures from the mean monthly value at that longitude. Shaded
areas indicate a positive temperature departure. In all these figures the
emphasis is on the trend in the temperature departures rather than the abso-
lute magnitude of the departure. No attempt will be made to relate the
brightness variations to observed temperature departures. The purpose of
providing the corresponding brightness is to show that the influence of
clouds in the determination of sea surface temperatures has been minimized.
Lack of correlation between the two fields is an indication that the derived
temperatures represent relatively cloud-free conditions.
Figure 5 shows the brightness distribution and sea surface temperature
departures at 5°S. The brightness distribution during the first half of
May shows a striped pattern, indicating cloudiness associated with weak
tropical disturbances having a period of 2 to 3 days moving through the
region. No such brightness pattern appears during the latter half of May.
Surface temperature departures for the same period do not exhibit any par-
ticular pattern except a general warming trend during the early part of May
and again from May 18 to 30.
Brightness distribution and sea surface temperature departures at 10°S,
shown in figure 4, differ from those at 5°S. Noticeable cloudiness existed
up to May 19 between 90° and 100°W, and scattered cloud conditions prevailed
at other locations. The temperature departures show some cooling until
May 18, and relative warming during the rest of the period. The region of
warming is almost identical to the one shown at 5°S.
Figure 5 shows cloud brightness distribution and sea surface temperature
departures at 15°S. Cloudiness seems to have persisted except for the last
5 days of the period. Sea surface temperature departures show two periods
of relative warming, one before May 14 and the other after May 20. The
period between May 14 and 20 shows relative cooling, the cooling first taking
place at 90°W and progressing westward with time. Similar temperature depar-
tures are also shown in figure 6, at 20°S, where the relative cooling starts
about May 15 at 90°W and seems to progress westward with time. The bright-
ness data for 20°S show only a few cloudy periods compared with 15°S.
Figure 7 shows a comparison of mean monthly sea surface temperatures ob-
tained from satellite IR data with those published by the National Marine
Fisheries Service (1971) (NMFS) . Between 100°W and 180°W there is good
agreement between both sets of data, but between 100°W and the coast of South
America there is a wide discrepancy. Because the NMFS analysis there is
based on very sparse ship data, it probably does not correspond to the actual
distribution. The satellite-derived sea surface temperature distribution
shows a cool tongue of water extending from 30° to 10°S along the South Amer-
ican Coast. Since there is good agreement where ship data are plentiful,
perhaps more reliance can be placed on the satellite temperatures where ship
data are missing as in this case.
Another way to validate the satellite-derived sea surface temperatures is
to construct latitudinal profiles and compare them with independent sets of
data. One such comparison is shown in figure 8. Two profiles were construc-
ted: one along 160°W and the other along 130°W. All the data are for the
month of May 1971 except Wyrtki's (1964), which is climatology for May. The
conventional data are profiles derived from the May 1971 sea surface tempera-
ture chart produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The conven-
tional data coverage extends from the Equator to 30°S, but Wyrtki's data
extend to 40°S. The overall agreement is good at both longitudes, although
there is 2° to 3°C difference between Wyrtki's values and the satellite data
at 30° and 35°S. In the equatorial region the satellite profiles show lower
temperatures than the other data. The gradients shown between 25° and 40°S
are in good agreement. At least, by making comparisons of this kind whenever
independent sets of data are available, the use of satellite observations can
be extended to data-sparse areas where conventional information is almost
4. COMMENTS ON THE VALIDATION OF SATELLITE-DERIVED
SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES
During the past few years a number of attempts have been made to derive
sea surface temperatures from satellite window (8-12 urn) radiation data.
Many of the studies (Smith et al. 1970, Rao et al . 1972) have shown that the
root mean square (RMS) differences between the sea surface temperatures
obtained from ship reports and those from satellites varied between 1.5° and
2.0°C. Similarly, a number of aircraft studies (Pickett 1966, Shaw and Irbe
1972) performed in the United States and Canada to determine the sea surface
temperatures by remote sensing show results similar to the satellite studies,
Table 1 summarizes some of the findings. The range of RMS differences
Table 1 . --Comparison of root mean square (RMS) differences in
in the determination of sea surface temperatures from various
satellite and aircraft radiation data.
RMS Difference °C
Nimbus II HRIR
NOAA 1 (S. Hemisphere)
(with Australian data)
AT = (T , . - T _ = 0.5°C
NOAA 2 (N. Hemisphere) 1973 1.6
AT = T , . - T J = 0.7°C
Canadian studies 1.7
aircraft vs. ships
U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office (Pickett)
AT = (T , . - T ADT ) = 1°C
(range 0.3°C - 1.8°C)
between the ship measurements and the remotely sensed values is about 1.5° to
2.0°C, the ship reports being higher by 0.5° to 1.0°C. Some of this varia-
bility could be due to the different techniques used in measuring tempera-
tures from ships and part could be attributed to the uncertainties in the
atmospheric attenuation corrections used in this and the other studies (Rao
et al . 1972, Maul and Sidran 1973). The attenuation corrections based on
the present knowledge about atmospheric water vapor transmission and the
effects of other particulates have not been considered. James and Fox (1972)
have analyzed large amounts of extensive sea surface temperature data from
ship reports and showed large variabilities in the data. They emphasized
the need for adopting a standard technique to measure and define sea surface
temperature. Until a well-defined standard is established, satellite-
derived sea surface temperatures cannot be compared strictly with all the
various types of ship reports (bucket temperatures, intake temperatures,
5. SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING REMARKS
It has been shown that one can objectively derive sea surface temperatures
from satellite IR information over large areas. The feasibility of gener-
ating a mean monthly sea surface temperature chart using only the satellite
information has also been demonstrated.
A comparison between sea surface temperature analyses obtained from satel-
lite IR data and an analysis based on conventional ship data showed good
agreement. From recent comparisons of ship, aircraft, and satellite data,
one can conclude that with the present state of the art it is possible to
objectively derive sea surface temperatures from satellite IR data with an
absolute accuracy of 1° to 2°C.
I thank Julia Hart and Leonard Hatton for the analyses of the data and for
the drafting of figures and Dr. E. P. McClain for his critical review of the
Goddard Space Flight Center, ITOS , National Aeronautics and Space Administra-
tion, Greenbelt, Md. , 1970, 28 pp.
Holl, M. M., Mendenhall, B. R. , and Tilden, C. E., "Technical Developments
for Operational Sea Surface Temperature Analysis With Capability for Satel-
lite Data Input," Prepared for Naval Weapons Engineering Support Activity
Detachment (FAMOS) , 3737 Branch Avenue, Room 307, Hillcrest Heights, Md.,
20031, under Contract No. N62306-70-C-0334, Sept. 1971, 73 pp.
James, R. W., and Fox, P. T. , "Comparative Sea-Surface Temperature Measure-
ments," WMO Reports on Marine Science Affairs, Report No. 5, WMO No. 336,
Secretariat of World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland,
1972, 27 pp.
Maul, George A., and Sidran, Miriam, "Atmospheric Effects on Ocean Surface
Temperature Sensing From the NOAA Satellite Scanning Radiometer," Journal
of Geophysical Research , Vol. 78, No. 12, 1973, pp. 1909-1916.
National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce, Fishing
Information , Fishery Oceanography Center, LaJolla, Calif., May 1971. 24 pp.
Pickett, R. L., "Accuracy of an Airborne Infrared Radiation Thermometer,"
Informal Report 0-1-66, Naval Oceanographic Office, Suitland, Md. , 1966,
Piatt, C. M. R., CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Physics, Aspendale, Victoria,
Australia, private communication, 1972.
Rao, P. K., Smith, W. L., and Koffler, R. , "Global Sea-Surface Temperature
Distribution Determined From an Environmental Satellite," Monthly Weather
Review , Vol. 100, No. 1, Jan. 1972, pp. 10-14.
Shaw, R. W., and Irbe, J. C, "Environmental Adjustments for the Airborne
Radiation Thermometer Measuring Water Surface Temperature," Water Resources
Research , Vol. 8, No. 5, Oct. 1972, pp. 1214-1225.
Shenk, W. E., and Salomonson, V. V., "A Multispectral Technique to Determine
Sea Surface Temperature Using Nimbus 2 Data," Journal of Physical Oceanog-
raphy , Vol. 2, April 1972, pp. 157-167.
Smith, W. L., Rao, P. K. , Koffler, R., and Curtis, W. R. , "The Determination
of Sea-Surface Temperature From Satellite High Resolution Infrared Window
Radiation Measurements," Monthly Weather Review , Vol. 98, No. 8, Aug. 1970,
Smith, W. L., and Rao, P. K., "The Determination of Surface Temperature From
Satellite "Window" Radiation Measurements," Proceedings of the Fifth
Symposium on Temperature, Washington, D.C., June 21-24, 1971 , Instrument
Society of America, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1972, pp. 2251-2257.
Wyrtki, Klaus, "The Thermal Structure of the Eastern Pacific Ocean,"
Deutschen Hydrographischen Zeitschrift, Erganzungsheft , Reihe A(8), No. 6,
Deutsche Hydrographische Institut, Hamburg, 1964, 84 pp.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE (5°S'MAY 1971
I . I I LJ I l l
SFC TEMP CHANGES
J I 1_
100 90 120 110
Figure 3. --Time- longitude section showing ihe brightness and temperature
departures at 5°S derived from N0AA 1 satellite data for May 1971.
Brightness units vary from to 9; temperature departures are in degrees C.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE (10°S) MAY 1971
BRIGHTNESS SFC TEMP CHANGES
I II I
Figure 4. — Same as in figure 3 for 10°S.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE (15"S) MAY 197I
J LJ I I L_
SFC TEMP CHANGES
Figure 5. --Same as in figure 3 for 15°S.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE (20 S) MAY 1971
SFC TEMP. CHANGES
J I ill
-1 — I — L_l 1.1,1
Figure 6. — Same as in figure 3 for 20° S,
03 i— 1
0) .— 1
Figure 8. — Comparison of mean monthly latitudinal sea surface temperature
profiles at 130° W and 160° W over the Southern Hemisphere for May 1971,
Satellite observations were obtained from NOAA 1 scanning radiometer
data and conventional data from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
(Continued from inside front cover)
NESC 51 Application of Meteorological Satellite Data in Analysis and Forecasting. Ralph K. Anderson,
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